On September 17th, 2019, Virginia Governor Northam signed Executive Order Forty-Three to both expand access to renewable energy and support clean energy jobs. The Commonwealth set goals for its energy production-- including powering 30% of Virginia’s electric system with renewable energy resources by 2030 and 100% by 2050. These ambitious goals will be made possible by initially focusing on solar and onshore wind energy sources followed by the development of off-shore sources.
“This Executive Order will help ensure that Virginia remains at the forefront of clean energy innovation, meets the urgency of the challenges brought on by climate change, and captures the economic, environmental, and health benefits of this energy growth in an equitable way that benefits all Virginians,” says Governor Northam. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Virginia is among the top 10 states with the most jobs in energy efficiency, with 76,621 people employed in this sector that is rapidly growing across the United States. With these ambitious goals in mind, we can likely expect to see a greater boost in renewable energy jobs across the state.
In fact, a few weeks ago, Dominion Energy signed a 420-megawatt contract with the Commonwealth of Virginia to ensure the goals outlined by Governor Northam in the Executive Order. The renewables sourced in this package include a combination of wind energy and solar projects. In combination with previously announced solar projects, Dominion Energy notes that these contracts are expected to fulfill 45% of the state government’s annual energy use, in both state-owned buildings and universities.
Furthermore, the increased shift towards the renewable energy sector will lead to a push to align training and curriculum with job opportunities. At UVA, there are several courses preparing students for just that. I currently am enrolled in Sustainable Energy Systems where we are learning about the scientific, economic, political, and societal implications of shifting to renewable energy sources. As students sign up for classes in the next couple of weeks, they should consider the opportunities to learn more about renewable energy systems--whether from an engineering, political, or economic perspective--in order to be better prepared for this shift across states and build out a green workforce.
While this executive order is an exciting push toward Virginia’s attempt to combat climate change, it is important to note that an executive order does not have the force and effect of law. I hope, however, that the order will continue to encourage policy and people of the Commonwealth to work toward these goals through pressuring the General Assembly, regulators, and utilities to make sure these goals outlined in the Executive Order can be achieved on time.